Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The blondie isn't just the brownie's paler cousin

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I made a batch of blondies about a month ago, and suddenly I began seeing blondie recipes all over the place.

I'm not sure if that's because there are currently more blondie recipes circulating -- the New York Times food section recently featured blondies, as did the popular food website The Kitchn. Or because my blondie-obsessed state had simply opened my eyes to a blonder world. (Sort of like when you're pregnant and start seeing babies everywhere.)

Either way, the blondie -- an overlooked, underappreciated alternative to the brownie -- deserves to have a moment. We've gone over-the-top with the conventional brownie, falling into a pool of mocha-mallow-peanut-butter-triple-choco excess. It might be time to appreciate the quiet, subtle allure of the blondie.

Simply put, a blondie is like a brownie without chocolate. And I know I've lost some of you already, but please, hear me out.

First of all, there's the texture. There are cakey brownies and there are fudgey brownies, but for me, the true brownie texture is that rich, dense, slightly chewy state between cakey and fudgey. Most blondie recipes hit that perfect sweet spot.

Then there's the taste. No longer just propping up chocolate, butter and brown sugar come into their own, working together to construct a mellow, caramelly sweetness.

The blondie is thought to have predated the chocolate brownie, probably descending from Renaissance gingerbread cakes that were baked in shallow pans. Blondie-like recipes can be found in 19th-century North American cookbooks, but that flashy, showboating upstart, the brownie, took the lead in the 20th century.

For some time now, the blondie has been considered the poor cousin, the weak sister, the fallback position when you've run out of baking chocolate. Sometimes it's even called a "blonde brownie," which sounds contradictory and frankly, a bit bigoted, as if it's a failed brownie, a brownie manque, rather than a sweet in its own right.

The blondie's particular charms include simplicity. If you have basic baking staples on hand, you can whip up a batch of blondies in under an hour. Because the components are straightforward and few, you need to use good quality ingredients -- unsalted butter, soft brown sugar and pure vanilla extract. Unadorned blondies are beautiful, but you can also fancy them up with dried cherries, crystallized ginger, pistachios, almonds, toffee bits or even chocolate. (I'm not being hypocritical here. Relegated to secondary status, chocolate chips contrast beautifully with blondie batter.)

Since going blonde, I've tried out a rich, golden blondie that gets added taste and texture from toasted coconut, and, by way of Martha Stewart, a brown butter blondie that uses cooked butter to achieve a deep caramel flavour with a slightly nutty finish. (The French name for brown butter is beurre noisette, or "hazelnut butter.")

And this is just a beginning. The basic blondie has an appealing modesty, but it can dress up and go anywhere. It's true -- blondies do have more fun.

 

Brown butter blondies

310 ml (285 g or 1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, plus more for pan

560 ml (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) salt

500 ml (2 cups) packed light brown sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar

3 large eggs

12 ml (2 1/2 tsp) vanilla

250 ml (1 cup) chopped walnuts

250 ml (1 cup) white chocolate chips

 

Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Butter a 22x33 cm (9x13 in) baking pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter and flour parchment paper. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, cook the butter until it turns golden brown; immediately remove from heat and let cool. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine browned butter and both sugars and stir with wooden spoon until combined. Attach bowl to mixer; add eggs. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and lightened in colour, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour mixture, walnuts and white chocolate chips. Mix until combined and spread into prepared pan.

Bake until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes (do not overbake). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before turning out of pan onto a cutting board. Peel off parchment paper and cut blondies into small squares or cut out shapes with a cookie cutter.

-- Adapted from marthastewart.com

 

Tester's notes: These are fabulously caramelly and rich. You need to be patient with the brown butter. It's one of those cooking processes that takes a long time to get underway and then suddenly just happens -- and it can go from brown to black very quickly. It's the milk solids near the bottom that will brown, not the whole mixture, so when that layer starts to turn a rich chestnut colour, take the pot off the heat right away.

And make sure to beat the heck out of the butter and brown sugar and egg. This takes quite a while, but the mixture needs to be emulsified and considerably lightened in colour.

 

Coconut blondies

175 ml (170 g or 3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

10 ml (2 tsp) vanilla

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

500 ml (2 cups) sweetened flaked coconut, toasted and cooled

 

Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Butter and flour a 22x33 cm (9x13 in) baking pan. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the brown sugar, beating the mixture until it is fluffy and lightened in colour. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together the salt, baking powder and flour. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in the coconut, and spread the batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake it in the middle of the oven for 25-35 minutes or until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and crumbs adhere to a tester. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely in the pan on a rack and cut into squares.

-- Adapted from Gourmet magazine

 

Tester's notes: This mellow golden blondie gets a kick from the coconut. Toasting the coconut isn't just busy work. It deepens the flavour. Just watch carefully when toasting to make sure the coconut doesn't scorch.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2013 C1

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